Fourth Annual Conference of the SARF

Fourth Annual Conference of the South Africa – Russia Dialogue Forum
28-29 November 2016
The South Africa – Russia Dialogue Forum (SARDF) is pleased to announce that its annual conference for 2016 is being planned for 28 and 29 November 2016 at the Misty Hills Hotel and Conference Centre located at Muldersdrift outside Johannesburg.
Established in 2013, the SARDF is a society-driven initiative to promote better understanding and cooperation between Russia and South Africa in the context of the special relationship into which the two states have entered. As a non-political civil society organization, the SARDF seeks to enhance people-to-people interaction and official relations in a range of fields, including the economy, education, science, culture and politics.
The central theme of the 2016 conference is Towards 25 years of official relations between South Africa and Russia. Participants will have the opportunity to take stock of the progress made in bilateral relations in various areas over this period and to ponder the future of the two countries’ relationship. At the same time the state of inter-societal relations needs to be considered, as well as the prospects for a deepening of non-official interactions.
The first day of the conference, Monday, 28 November, will consist of four sessions devoted to political and diplomatic relations between Russia and South Africa, economic and technological links (including energy), socio-cultural ties, and environmental exchanges, respectively. Policy-makers, diplomats, business leaders, academics, writers and environmentalists from the two countries will be invited to speak at the four sessions.
On the second day two exclusively academic sessions will be held. Following a call for papers, ten submissions relating to Russia and South Africa will be selected for presentation. Papers relating to the two states’ membership of BRICS and how this influences their bilateral relations and multilateral engagements would be particularly welcome. Presentations on the African agendas pursued by Russia and South Africa, separately and perhaps jointly, are likewise encouraged. The selectors will also consider proposals dealing with other aspects of the two states’ official or non-official relations, or themes concerned with their respective domestic politics or international relations.
As with previous SARDF conferences, the organisers of the 2016 event intend publishing deserving academic presentations in a scholarly journal or in some other suitable format. Academic presenters are expected to give the SARDF the first right of refusal for the publication of their conference papers.
In line with another SARDF custom, the organisers will endeavour to subside – through sponsorships – the accommodation expenses of participants in the 2016 conference. This could include three nights’ accommodation at the Misty Hills Hotel. Arrangements will be made for cultural and social events, including a visit to Cradle of Humankind at Maropeng (near the conference venue) and a meal in Misty Hills Hotel’s famous Carnivore restaurant. Optional excursions to nearby places of interest (including Pilanesberg game reserve, Lesedi cultural village and the Sun City resort) for the day after the conference (30 November) will also be offered.
For inquiries, please contact the conference organisers, both attached to the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg:
Prof. Deon Geldenhuys,
Dr Costa Georghiou,
Issued on 17 February 2016
Provisional programme of the conference is here: SARDF 2016 conference programme

On 5-6 October 2015 SARDF held its third conference and third Council meeting at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics

South Africa – Russia Dialogue Forum (SARDF)

Report on the Third Conference and Council Meeting

held at the

National Research University – Higher School of Economics

Moscow, 5–6 October 2015


The SARDF is a civil society-driven initiative aimed at promoting a deeper understanding and relations between Russia and South Africa at an inter-societal, non-state level. It seeks to  encourage cooperation between research and academic institutions and individuals in both countries, stimulating dialogue on bilateral relations and the two countries’ common interests globally (with specific attention to their BRICS partnership). The SARDF  also seeks to enhance informal contacts and relations, people-to-people interaction and mutual knowledge of our two societies.

The SARDF was created at its first meeting in Moscow at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics in October 2013, when its governing Council was also inaugurated. The point of departure was that while official relations between Russia and South Africa were extremely good, informal contacts and relations were rare and insufficient. The agreement between governments to establish a strategic partnership between the two countries, as well as the frequent meetings of the two heads of states, signal an intention to deepen relations and create room for stronger input into these relations from civil society.

The second conference of the Dialogue Forum and the second meeting of the Council took place at the University of Pretoria on 4–5 December 2014. The conference was mainly devoted to the analysis of economic relations between Russia and South Africa and to the mutual images in the sphere of economic relations. The Council suggested the topic for the next conference, discussed the possibilities of publishing the materials of the second conference and stressed the need for attracting Russian and South African business circles to the work of the SARDF.

The theme of the SARDF’s third conference, which took place at National Research University – Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Moscow on 5–6 October 2015, was Nation- and state-building in South Africa and Russia in the late 20th-early 21st centuries: objectives, successes, failures, challenges and mutual images.

The South African delegation consisted of Prof. Gerrit Olivier (University of Pretoria), who is also co-chairman of the Dialogue Forum; Prof. Deon Geldenhuys (University of Johannesburg), coordinator; Dr Costa Georghiou (University of Johannesburg), and Adv. Frans Stroebel (director of companies). Prof Maxi Schoeman (University of Pretoria) and Prof. Siphamandla Zondi (Institute for Global Dialogue, Unisa) were initially part of the South African team but were unable to attend the Moscow conference. Prof. Schoeman’s paper was nonetheless read in her absence at the conference, while Prof. Zondi’s paper is expected to be submitted for the proposed publication of the conference contributions.

The Russian delegation comprised Prof. Apollon Davidson (HSE), co-chairman of the SARDF; Prof. Irina Filatova (HSE), coordinator; Dr Alexander Voevodsky (HSE), coordinator; Prof. Vladimir Shubin (Africa Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences); Dr Vasily Sidorov (Africa Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences); Dr Maria Kurbak (Institute of General History of the Russian Academy of Sciences), and Dr Dmitri Suchkov (Vnesheconombank). Dr Alexandra Arkhangelskaya (Africa Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences) was initially part of the Russian delegation, but could not attend the conference.

The conference was also attended by students from the Institute of Asian and African Countries of Moscow State University, who specialise in South Africa. A South African journalist representing a popular SABC Afrikaans morning programme was also present.

The conference proceedings were opened by Prof. Vadim Radaiev, First Vice Rector of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics and by Mr Henry Short, Minister Plenipotentiary at the South African Embassy in the Russian Federation. The opening was also attended by representatives of the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation and another diplomat from the South African Embassy in Moscow.

Participants presented 12 papers on different aspects of the topic of the conference. A complete conference programme accompanies this report.

  1. Davidson (‘Russia and South Africa: State policies, mutual relations and mutual images’) sketched the importance of mutual images in the development of relations between Russia and South Africa from the time of the Boer republics to the present day at both state and non-state levels. He also highlighted the role that the SARDF could play in improving mutual understanding between the two societies.
  2. Schoeman’s paper (‘History, heritage, memorialisation and nation-building: Can South Africa learn from Russia?’), introduced one of the most interesting yet thorny problems discussed at the conference, namely the use of history, historical monuments and historical associations in the process of nation-building in Russia and South Africa.
  3. Dr Voevodsky’s presentation (‘Reassessing the past for building a future: Russian and South African experience’) neatly complemented Prof. Schoeman’s. Dr Voevodsky examined the ways in which the leaderships of the two countries guided the respective re-evaluations of their societies’ pasts since the end of Soviet communism and apartheid in South Africa.
  4. Olivier (‘Majoritarianism and nation-building in South Africa’) considered the implications of South Africa’s system of unfettered majoritarian democracy for the process of nation-building that has been driven by the ruling party since 1994.
  5. In her paper (‘Russia and South Africa: Nation-building texts’) Prof. Filatova analysed the official nation-building discourse in the two countries by referring to respective constitutions, other laws and policy documents.
  6. Geldenhuys (‘The current status of good governance in South Africa’s state-rebuilding project’) assessed the quality of governance in South Africa by reference to several international indexes, and found that weaknesses in governance performance placed the post-1994 ‘state-rebuilding project’ in jeopardy.
  7. Shubin (‘Russia in a distorting mirror of South African media’) exposed misrepresentations of the two societies in the countries’ respective media outlets, particularly in the portrayal of government leaders.
  8. Dr Kurbak (‘State policy concerning freedom of speech in Russia and South Africa today’) investigated state restrictions on freedom of speech in the Soviet era and in apartheid South Africa, and then set out the changes in both countries since the 1990s. Compared with democratic South Africa, the Russian state has considerable power to restrict freedom of speech, especially that of the mass media.
  9. In his paper (‘South Africa and Russia: Investment and nation-building’) Dr Sidorov discussed the main Russian companies’ investments in South Africa and those of leading South African corporations in Russia, and then considered whether such ties assisted in nation-building in the respective countries.
  10. Dr Georghiou (‘State-building in South Africa post-1994: The developmental state discourse’) identified serious domestic obstacles to South Africa achieving its goal of becoming a democratic developmental state. These include the state’s lack of capacity and of political will, and divisions in ruling circles.

11.Dr Suchkov (‘Russia-South Africa trade and economic update’) provided a ‘snapshot’ of bilateral economic ties between the two states. Focusing on trade and investment, he examined current commercial relations and pondered future transactions involving both private companies and state-owned enterprises.

  1. Finally, Adv. Stroebel (‘The idea is always bigger than the man: Using the Peace Parks Foundation success as example’) gave an overview of the development of peace parks across the world, many of them straddling international borders. These initiatives, he argued, support sustainable economic development, conserve biodiversity and can contribute to regional peace and stability.

The third meeting of the Council the South Africa – Russia Dialogue Forum took place on 6 October 2015 after the end of the conference. Members of the South African Council in attendance were professors Olivier and Geldenhuys, Adv. Stroebel and Dr Georghiou (co-opted). Professors Schoeman and Zondi were absent. The Russian Council members present were Professors Davidson, Filatova and Shubin, and Doctors Voevodsky, Sidorov and Suchkov. Professors Volchkova and Urnov and Dr Arkhangelskaya were absent.

The Council thanked Dr Suchkov and Vnesheconombank for financial assistance in obtaining the venue for the second day of the conference and providing refreshments and sponsoring the reception. The Council also expressed its gratitude to the Higher School of Economics for partial funding and organisation of the conference and to Dr Voevodsky and Prof. Filatova for their respective parts in arranging the conference.

The Moscow 2013 Council meeting had adopted the following goals for future activities:

  1. to organise regular conferences, seminars and workshops on subjects of mutual interest;
  2. to publish regular academic books, articles, brochures and ad hoc-studies, covering topics of mutual interest;
  3. to create a virtual internet platform in order to facilitate continuous contact and exchanges among members of the SARDF;
  4. to liaise with the media and publicise the activities and ideas of the SARDF;
  5. to interact with business and civil society organisations with the purpose of improving and deepening of knowledge of Russia and South Africa respectively; and
  6. to work towards improving formal academic instruction in matters related to our respective societies and relations between them and to negotiate with the University of Pretoria and the NRU-Higher School of Economics to support this initiative.

The Moscow Council meeting of 2015 noted that some of the goals set in 2013 were successfully achieved and others not.

In 2015 several conferences on or in connection with South Africa and Russia’s relations with South Africa were organised in Russia. In October alone such conferences took place at the Institute of General History (Russian Academy of Sciences) and at the St. Petersburg branch of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics. There have been no similar conferences in South Africa.

Participants at the second meeting of the Dialogue Forum in 2014 have submitted their papers for publication in the South African journal Strategic Review for Southern Africa. Other academic articles on South Africa and Russia and the relations between the two countries have been published, as well as articles in South African and Russian mass media. There have also been several radio interviews. However, a publication of the materials of the second conference of the Dialogue Forum in Russian and English as a special issue of an academic journal or as a separate volume did not materialise.

Council members noted with satisfaction a certain interest in the activities of the Dialogue Forum among the Russian business community. This came in the form of a meeting convened by the Presidential Library a month before the 2015 Dialogue Forum conference. It was attended by representatives of Gasprom, Vnesheconombank and the Presidential Library itself, as well as representatives of Russian Council of the Dialogue Forum. Those present were briefed about the aims and tasks of the Dialogue Forum and its activities. However, practical support came only from Vnesheconombank.

As before, the SARDF’s intention to improve the situation with regard to Russian studies at South African universities remained unfulfilled. Russian studies as a field of specialisation simply does not exist in South Africa. The only encouraging development in this area was the series of lectures on contemporary Russia given by Prof. Filatova at the Summer School of the University of Cape Town. The situation is slightly better in Russia, where a group of Moscow State University students specialises in South Africa and do a course in the Afrikaans language.

However, there has been a noticeable growth of interest in Russia among the South African academic community. An increasing number of South African universities are keen to sign agreements of cooperation and exchange with Russian tertiary institutions, with the HSE prominent among them.

The Council requested its Russian members to investigate the possibility of having the 2015 conference papers published by the HSE in Moscow. The editorial board for such a publication would include Professors Geldenhuys and Filatova and Doctors Georghiou and Voevodsky.

Finally, the SARDF Council mandated the South African members to explore the possibility of holding the next conference in South Africa in 2016. The title proposed for the conference is ‘Towards the 25th anniversary of official relations between Russia and South Africa’.

Conference programme

Tshwane-Moscow Cities Cement Relations

The Executive Mayor of the capital city of South Africa, His Worship, Mr Sputla Ramogopa, reported on 24 December 2014 that he recently led a delegation from the city council on an official trip to Moscow to cement relations. He was Accompanied by the Member of Mayoral Committee for Economic Development and Planning, Cllr Subesh Pillay.

He said:

” The official visit to Moscow in the Russian Federation was at the invitation of the Mayor of Moscow, Mr S Sobyanin.”

The leadership of the two cities discussed ways of deepening economic relations. They agreed to sign an investment Memorandum of Understanding covering travel and tourism; economic development with emphasis on food exports and agriculture; infrastructure in areas of energy and transport; heritage, arts and culture; capacity building and so forth.
image image

Background is that in March 2013, South Africa and Russia moved to cement relations when President Jacob Zuma hosted his counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at the fifth BRICS summit in Durban.

Nine agreements regarding education and cooperation in the fields of energy, fisheries, aviation safety, natural resources and transport agreements were signed by ministers from both countries during a ceremony that marked the Russian President’s second official visit to South Africa.

Russia further pledged to assist South Africans with training in state-of-the-art technology to build solar energy plants in South Africa.

This is therefore part of growing interaction between the two countries that should help deepen and widen relations after a long period of uneventful relations.


Eurasian Economic Commission Officials Visit South Africa

A delegation of officials from the Eurasian Economic Commission, a body created in 2011 by presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan to expand economic opportunities for the shared economic space, visited South Africa to explore economic relations with SA and Africa broadly.

Led by Ms Tatyana Valovaya, a member of the Board of the Commission responsible for integration and macroeconomics, the delegation met South African business representatives, political actors and academics mainly in Cape Town through the support of the embassies of the Commission’s member states…

Armenia recently submitted its interest in joining the customs union and Kyrgystan is rumored to have started discussions in the same direction. Analysts suggest that the next countries to bid for membership will be countries like Turkey and Syria.

The union has a combined US$3 trillion worth of economy, expected to expand with time beyond being an energy-driven economic region to a more diversified economic zone. This makes a significant areas of economic opportunities for South Africa and Africa as it continues to diversify its trade relations globally on the basis of non-alignment and some pragmatism.

This visit received no media reports of note, but this does not mean that it was insignificant. The question is what is the potential for SA_Russia relations to be the springboard for relations with the whole of Eurasia generally or the Commission area particular? What would be the key drivers and pillars of such relations? What economic and trade potential lies is such relations? How should South Africa’s foreign policy and Russian foreign policy gurus be thinking through this development?

This subject is open to insights and ideas for all of our members and friends…